Seek change, with eye on the future: NTUC chief

LABOUR chief Lim Swee Say yesterday called for a push to "futurise" Singapore, with the people seeking out change instead of yearning for things to remain as they are.

In that way, they will ensure the country keeps growing to fund generous Budgets.

Urging a "mindset of embracing the future", he said this involves a business culture that seizes new opportunities and a personal commitment among Singaporeans to lifelong learning.

Without this, the Government's policies to support the workforce will ultimately fall flat, he said, in a point also made by several other MPs yesterday during the second day of debate on the Budget statement.

Mr Lim reminded the House that the growth of the Singapore workforce is slowing to a halt as foreigners are reaching the quota of one-third of the labour force. So, if productivity growth of companies and workers remains low or negative, economic stagnation owing to a lack of capacity is a very real possibility.

"When that happens, wages will go down, unemployment will go up, re-employment will drop, there will be less or no Budget surplus and it will be harder for us to try to do more good for our people," he said.

Mr Lim called on businesses and workers to "futurise" themselves instead, and not be distracted by perceived obstacles. To employers who tell him Singapore has become too expensive for them to do business in, he said: "I don't think businesses should (keep) going west, keep chasing after sunsets, keep going for lower-cost locations. Eventually you'll end up with darkness."

Instead, they should "fly east and chase sunrises" by going after opportunities in "3D printing, robotisation, uberisation, big data, the Internet of things, digitisation of services, online-to-offline, offline-to-online - all these are coming".

Employers also should not fret that they are unable to make all jobs attractive to Singaporeans, he said, reminding them that only two-thirds of jobs need to be redesigned, as one-third of the workforce will still be made up of foreigners.

And if workers use the new initiatives like SkillsFuture credits to improve their own productivity, then "two-thirds plus one-third can (add up to more) than one, and we can break the bottleneck of manpower optimisation".

But he emphasised that Singaporean workers must commit to their own role - instead of just being passive recipients of goodies handed out by the Government.

The initial $500 grant the Government will give each Singaporean aged 25 and older for approved courses will go a long way, he said, as course fees are already subsidised up to 90 per cent.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Sembawang GRC), one of 26 MPs who spoke yesterday, concurred that "without a personal commitment, rooted in a sense of responsibility towards oneself and one's family, we will not have the necessary buy-in for these policies to take off."

Nominated MP Tan Tai Yong sought to remind the House that resilience lies not just in social safety nets or institutions, but in the people's character and spirit.

Singapore's systems are designed so well that when there is a drought, the water supply is not disrupted. But whether Singaporeans can endure and survive a drought is perhaps the more pertinent question, he said.

In its 50 years, it was the "sheer determination and gumption" of a tough and resolute population that built Singapore.

"As the Government continues to do more, this will make us more resilient (and) able to withstand more shocks. But what about our ability to adapt, to change, to endure and persevere?

"Will we then gradually lose that toughness, resilience and resolve that the pioneer generation showed in such good measure?"

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This article was first published on March 5, 2015.
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